Civilized Beasts Poetry Anthology, 2015 Edition – book review by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Civilized Beasts, Poetry Anthology, 2015 Edition, editor-in-chief Laura Govednik.
Manvil, TX, Weasel Press, December 2015, trade paperback $8.99 (86 pages), Kindle $2.99.
This small, slim volume has four Editors and an Editor-In-Chief. Editor Jason Huitt (Lunostophiles) explains in his Foreword that poetry has an image problem; that it “is hard to sell to the masses.” (The other three Editors are Altivo Overo, Televassi, and George Squares.) I agree with his reason that it has a cultural stereotype of being ‘for the elite’. I would also say that it’s too short and plotless.
Civilized Beasts, 2015 Edition contains 55 poems by 33 authors. Most are a single page or less long. That makes Civilized Beasts best for reading in short bursts, a few poems at a time. The anthology is a charity for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “All proceeds from this anthology go towards the Wildlife Conservation Society.”
It is hard to get really “furry” in one page. Only a couple have what might be called a furry plot; notably “Two Thieves on a Bluff” by George Squares, and “Why the Coyote Is: A Legend I Mostly Made Up But Is Undeniably True” by David Andrew Cowan. Most poems are about the beauty of nature; wild animals fleetingly glimpsed, animals frozen at night by a car’s headlights, animals’ eyes glowing at night, and so on. There are several about “trickster coyote”, but almost all are about real coyotes:
“Brown and gray
Sand in a desert sunset
Golden eyes laughing at and with you
Here and gone”
from God’s Dog by BanWynn Oakshadow
Some of the titles are more memorable than their poems, such as “The Mice’s Nightmare” by Stefano “Mando” Zocchi, “A Kiss from a Black Deer” by Dwale, “To My Lover, the Bloody-Faced Fox” by Kits Koriohn, “Ballad of the Weaselish Weasels” by Kenket, “Why I Am Sometimes Jealous of the Cat” by Renee Carter Hall, and “Taking Down the Hummingbird Feeder”, by Denise Clemons.
Other notable authors include Amy Fontaine, Larry D. Thomas, Arian Mabe, Chris Wise, and Alice “Huskyteer” Dryden. The cover is by Darkomi, and there is a title page drawing by Hickupby.
When people say “furry fiction”, they don’t usually think of poetry. Civilized Beasts aims to change that. It is intended to be an annual poetry anthology.
Mr. Patten has said before that he doesn’t like poetry.
“I would also say that it’s too short and plotless.”
You do realize that’s sort of like complaining that paintings don’t have enough words in them. 🙂
I prefer a plot or story rather than a short mood piece. There are a few poems that satisfy my preference – “Lepanto” by Chesterton; “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Tennyson; “The Song of Hiawatha” by Longfellow – but they aren’t furry. The only furry long poem with a story that I know of is “Eludoran” by Jonathan Goh.
As a poet whose muse has been in deep hibernation for over a decade, I always found it frustrating how difficult it was to express the quality of being furry in a concise, concrete, meaningful way. I distinctly recall struggling with animal imagery, groping around in the darkness of teenage depression, keenly aware that I differed from most of the other budding humans.
Maybe our brand of anthropomorphism is a sort whose oddities can only be appreciated well when it is written in and contrasts with prose. It feels as if furry defies direct definition and explanation almost inherently: that to unlock its most pure and concentrated expression requires the same key that fits the lock behind which is the meaning and essence of being human. These two are, perhaps, in this way inextricable, even as we strive to define ourselves as one relative to the other, some how not-either and not-both and not-neither at the same time, a complicated mess.
And still, every once in a while, it is nice to see that others have not abandoned the search, even if their efforts might have discovered nothing new. Maybe I’ll provide a helpful paw one day. That would be nice, even if it should also flop.
“Slim and thin” is an accurate description of what is essentially an extended poetry chapbook by a collection of poets rather than an individual. As such, the format is actually better than a chapbook would have been for the intended audience. The traditional chapbook format of a quartered 8.5×11″ standard sheet of print paper produced in multiples of 8 4.25″x5.5″ pages would have resulted in a product that was even more foreign to an audience much more familiar with holding a paperback in hand; quite likely increasing the alien perceptions of poetry this publication is trying to gap. Not to mention the unimaginable loss of the cover image.
“best for reading in short bursts” – in my opinion, ideally for reading a single poem at a time. The most important part of a poem is not the words; but, if it is effective, the contemplation it induces after reading. Reading half a dozen works of even masters of the craft as a group makes it all too easy to miss the sultry, sibilance of “… and each silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain filled me, thrilled me with fantastic terrors never felt before…” in Poe’s “The Raven”.
The volume does suffer somewhat from the simple layout, but the poems themselves are nicely selected to keep a varied flow of tone, subject, style and voice. Especially in light of the charity benefited by this collection, I was delighted to have to opportunity to see through the eyes of other Furry poets exactly what about the non, or minimally anthropomorphized animals attracted the authors. It reminded me of why an entire community grew and continues to develop around a common, but infinitely varied, connection to the animals who we attempt to incorporate into ourselves whether in art, role-play, spirituality or otherwise.
Is it ideal? No. Is is rough. The first incarnation of a fresh idea. As the oldest child of my family, I know that the first born is the one that parents experiment with as they learn how to parent and how to nurture their children to grow. I am lucky enough to have had a peek at Civilized Beasts 2 and happy to say that it does grow and develop in elegance and sophistication, while continuing to encouraging the raw, the refined, the comfortable and not so comfortable, the formal,
and the experimental expressions of a common bond shared by the poets and the readers.
I have the deepest respect for Fred, what he has done for the fandom, and his incredible work outside it. I am incredibly honored each time one of my works is found to be worthy of a place between the covers of his anthologies. That said, while I agree with many of his observations, I feel that the very act of placing a paw print in the dust of an almost unexplored territory within the fandom makes this, and those collections to follow, an important addition to our rather eclectic, collective culture.
In my reviews, I try to make my tastes and prejudices plain so that those who disagree with them may tell whether the work being reviewed might appeal more to them. This is especially true of poetry, since I am aware that it has a large following even if I don’t care for it. After all, it can be argued that two of the oldest works in Western literature originated as oral poetry: “The Iliad” and “The Odysey”, as declaimed by the bard Homer, for centuries before they were written down.
While I don’t care for most modern short poems, I do appreciate their existence; so much that when it was recently announced that the next volume of “Civilized Beasts” might be cancelled due to a lack of submissions, I urged several furry authors to write something for it, and even wrote a couple pieces of blank verse myself. They’ll be in the second volume when it’s published.
But my poems (and I still have a hard time recognized blank verse as “poetry” – it doesn’t rhyme) prove what I consider the main fallacy of “furry poetry”: it ain’t furry. Both my poems are incidents from life; “The Silkworms” when I was a third-grade student and our teacher had a classroom project of raising silkworms, and “A Sphinx Moth Flew Into Our House”, one night when I was a teenager and my mother freaked out. I hope that you’ll enjoy them even if they aren’t really furry.
I have no problem with differing opinions. In fact, I celebrate them. Debate is one of the most beautiful offspring of the union of the infinite diversity of human experience and art. Without differing opinions, art would not grow, would not diversify, would not continually evolve and discover new and unique ways to express things that are the most difficult to express.
I disagree with many of your opinions in this review, but fought, and was permanently disabled defending your right to be free to voice them.
I do have one significant issue that I believe goes beyond the matter of differing opinions. You took an excerpt from my work, used it out of context to turn an expression of American Indian perception of coyote as a manifestation of Old Man Coyote, trickster and spiritual teacher and guide, when walking on four paws in the desert just as much as when on two, and turned it into an example of what you wanted to say…even though it was the opposite of what the poem expressed when read as a whole. Even the visual formatting of the poem was carefully worked to hint at a picture of anthro-Coyote in his cowboy hat. By manipulating that work, what you did went beyond review or example. It was deception and it was low.
Hey guys, Munchkin here. Thank you for this honest review, Fred. You made clear what your personal preference is in a poem within your review, which I certainly appreciate since, as you commented, different people have different tastes and may not agree. Personally, I see poetry much like the works in Fantasia. Some pieces tell a solid story with a beginning, middle, and end. Others are far more abstract, yet still manage to draw on ones emotions and leave an impact that’s unique to them. Others falls somewhere in the wide spectrum in between. All are worth experiencing, though (again, in my opinion at least). It was my hope to reflect that sort of love for variety in the poems selected. If a reader happens to stumble across a poem they enjoy in a format they never thought they could, all the better.
I can understand why some people might not be happy with this review. Honest reviews are hard to come by, though, and this is honestly how Fred thought of the collection. Might I encourage those who disagree (or, heck, even agree!) to write your own review, please? I would love to see what you feel worked and didn’t work, so that I can keep improving the collection with each and every volume. The extra attention that more reviews tend to bring in isn’t such a bad thing, either 😉
A small note to Fred- I read somewhere that if you can’t find the story you want to read, then write it (I’m most likely getting the wording all wrong, so please correct me if you know it.). I know just as well as any other writer that it’s far easier said than done, and I know you have already submitted poetry for Volume 3, but I would be happy to read any poems you’re able to write, as well as any poems that are more clearly anthropomorphic.